Revved-Up Trucking Regulations Could Be Costly for Farmers
We focus a lot here at GrowingProduce.com on sharing information to help you grow a good, quality crop. But it’s good to also take a step back and look at all of the many variables that can impact the profitability of your farming operation.
I was reminded of that recently while riding with a grower who lamented the rising costs of transportation to get his produce distributed to the retailers he serves and how pending regulations would make those costs go higher. That U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulation — the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate — is looming, and it has the specialty crop industry particularly concerned about its implications and financial impacts.
The ELD mandate was included in legislation passed by Congress in 2012. The logging devices are to be placed in vehicles involved in interstate commerce hauling a weight more than 26,000 pounds. The device will replace handwritten logs that previously tracked the maximum legal amount of time a driver can have behind the wheel in a 14-hour period. Drivers are required to take a mandatory 10-hour break after reaching the time limit. While the time limits have not changed, the ELDs will make it nearly impossible to fudge the paperwork.
Not to defend bending the rules, but the ELD will certainly impact agricultural transportation. The worry has been such that the DOT has provided an agricultural exemption until Sept. 30, 2018. The extension was the second for ag-related transportation.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue supported the extension, noting in a statement: “The ELD mandate imposes restrictions upon the agriculture industry that lack flexibility necessary for the unique realities of hauling agricultural commodities.”
In February, 26 leading specialty crop associations sent a letter to Ray Martinez, Administrator of DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, expressing concerns over the ELD mandate. Those worries include shipping costs — doubling and even tripling in some cases — and putting the already beleaguered trucking sector under even more pressure.
The letter noted that there is a shortage of nearly 35,000 over-the-road tractor trailer drivers in the U.S., which is being made worse by regulations. This is driving smaller carriers and owner-operators out of business.
The letter further stated: “For many produce farmers in rural areas, they rely on small and local carriers who have homes or operations nearby. Without these carriers who are on stand-by to haul produce cargo, they become dependent on calling trucks from the nearest major city. This not only places a massive economic burden and increased costs on the farmers, but it also means a lack of assurance for capacity as well as the additional time that the product will sit idle waiting for the carrier to arrive.”
The associations fear the hours-of-service regulations as they stand today will cost the specialty crop industry billions of dollars in over-the-road transportation costs. The national spot rate for refrigerated trucking was on average 36% more expensive this past January.
The letter laid out a number of accommodations that should be made for agriculture, including an additional two-year waiver of the ELD rules for trucks carrying agricultural commodities. It also called for modifications to suit the unique dynamics of loading and unloading fresh produce.
While the exemption is in place, there is still time to reach out to your lawmakers to let them know why it is important not to add drastic cost increases on agricultural transportation with burdensome over-regulation.